Pawlowski v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company

322 Wis. 2d 21, 777 N.W.2d 67 (2009)

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Pawlowski v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company

Wisconsin Supreme Court
322 Wis. 2d 21, 777 N.W.2d 67 (2009)

Facts

Colleen Pawlowski (plaintiff) was walking in front of the home owned by Nancy Seefeldt (defendant). At the time, Seefeldt was allowing a family friend, Walter Waterman, to reside in her home, free of rent, with his two dogs. As Pawlowski was walking, Waterman opened the door to the home, and his two dogs ran unleashed toward Pawlowski. One of the dogs, Boo, bit Pawlowski’s left thigh and punctured her calf, causing her to fall to the ground. Seefeldt was not home at the time of the attack and first learned of it when a police officer came to the house to investigate the incident. A few weeks following the attack, Seefeldt asked Waterman and his dogs to move out. Pawlowski brought suit against Seefeldt for her injuries under Wisconsin Statute § 174.02. The statute imposes liability upon any person who owns, harbors or keeps a dog for injuries caused by said dog. Seefeldt’s homeowner’s insurance, American Family Mutual Insurance Co. (American Family) (defendant), defended the suit against Seefeldt, claiming that she was not a keeper nor a harborer of Boo because her dominion over the dog was terminated when Waterman allowed the dogs to leave her house unleashed. Pawlowski argued that Seefeldt remained a harborer, and thus, a statutory owner of the dog, regardless of whether she was in immediate control of the dog at the time the injury occurred. The court of appeals found in favor of Pawlowski and held that Seefeldt was a statutory owner of Boo. American Family appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Abrahamson, C.J.)

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